New Zealand

‘I’m not gonna be able to fit everyone on, ay.’

It was the first logistical fuck up I’d encountered in my two weeks in New Zealand. Everything had been efficient, well ordered and polite. Even the transvestite bus driver was amiable and full of stories of varying degrees of interest. But now high season in the popular Bay of Islands tourist destination had got the better of a fledgling tour company and 20 people were lining up on the dock to fill five remaining seats in the high speed ferry. After a Chinese family pushed their way past the other patient customers to take the spots I asked how long it would be to send another boat.

‘Well. I’m the driver,’ he said tucking his shirt in to his high pants, ‘and the other driver’s here too, and the boat’s docked at the island. So, at least an hour.’

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Instead of waiting another hour in the intense 23 degree early afternoon sun I changed my ticket to the following morning to allow a full day on Urupukapuka Island, the largest in the aptly named Bay of Islands, home to over a hundred islands and New Zealand’s renowned fishing and water sports destination.

In keeping with the rest of the country the island was green and had sheep. Lots of rolling green hills leading from rocky clifftops to the Pacific, and white sheep dotted about the landscape; chewing grass, baaing and dropping nuggety turds to provide obstacles to the pleasure of hiking barefooted.

In the Bay of Island Urupukapuka is the island of bays. The ferry drops off passengers at the pier in Otehei Bay, then it’s by foot or kayak to Paradise, Otiao or Urupukapuka Bays and their white sand and calm waters, populated by camping families who book a year in advance and fill the waters with boats and divers throughout summer.

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Half the island is cleared farmland giving clear views of the surroundings but no respite from the surprisingly intense New Zealand sun. Much of the other half sits as it was before European settlement, dense forest housing a variety of native birds and shaded walking tracks.

A lack of water was my downfall. Although small on the map the island is still 208 hectares and the tracks covering much of it were usually steep, so exploring the whole place can take hours. As I reached each checkpoint on the map with no sign of refreshment at Otehei Bay I wondered where the sheep stopped to drink. They definitely didn’t stop at the canteen where a lack of competition means they can charge $6 for a bottle of water.

Eventually I made it back to Otehei Bay after about three hours, and deciding against sipping on the sea water had to begrudgingly pay the exorbitant price. I savoured each small mouthful as I sat overlooking the beach, surrounded by tourists and watching seagulls fight each other until the ferry arrived to take us back.

Then I found five bucks. Happy days.

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